Study finds lead-abatement a sound investment for Michigan

Lead poisoning in Michigan children costs $330 million per year

A coalition of health and environmental groups including the Ecology Center and the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health, has called on the Snyder administration to recommit to lead abatement as a sound economic investment and a critical public health step for Michigan’s future.

The action was triggered by the findings of a report released earlier this month that calculated the annual cost of lead exposure in Michigan children is approximately $330 million, $145 million of which is paid by taxpayers.

The report, Economic Impact of Lead Exposure and Remediation in Michigan, was written by a scholars at the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Risk Science Center, with contributions from staff at the Ecology Center. The study is a follow-up to The Price of Pollution report the Ecology Center and Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health published in 2010.

The new report is the first to compare the costs of lead contamination in Michigan’s children with the cost to prevent the problem, according to Rebecca Meuninck, environmental health campaign director at the Ecology Center. Meuninck also is coordinator of the Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health, a coalition of health professionals, health-affected groups, environmental organizations, and others.

Lead poisoning is the number one environmental health hazard for children in Michigan. The report estimates that cost of remediation of all most at-risk homes to be $600 million.

“According to the report, remediating all of the most at risk homes would pay for itself in three years,” Meuninck said. “That’s astonishing. Not only is lead abatement a critical public health investment for our future, it also makes economic sense.”

The Michigan legislature seems to be listening. On June 9, a legislative budget conference committee increased funding for lead abatement by $500,000 to a total of $1.75 million for fiscal year 2015.

“We are thrilled that the Michigan legislature recognizes the importance of protecting Michigan children from lead poisoning, and the budget increase is a step in the right direction," Meuninck said. “Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. Since the data shows that it is cost effective to remediate lead-contaminated homes, our goal as a state must be to end lead poisoning in Michigan.”

“It is well-documented that childhood lead exposure is associated with a wide range of irreversible and costly heath effects and behavioral problems. However, this is the first time these impacts of lead exposure have been compared with the costs of abatement in Michigan,” according to Tracy Swinburn, research specialist at the U-M Risk Science Center and author of the report.

Four main categories of impact were studied and expenditures were conservatively projected for costs associated with lead contamination of children: increased health care (more than $18 million annually), increased adult and juvenile crime ($105 million annually), increased need for special education ($2.5 million annually), and decline in lifetime earnings ($206 million annually).

The state ranks among the top six states for lead poisoning. More than 21 percent of ADHD cases are associated with elevated blood lead levels, and 15 percent of adult crime and 10 percent of juvenile delinquency have been associated with lead exposure.

Many older homes in Michigan contain lead paint, which is estimated to be at the root of 70 percent of lead exposure; the state has a lead-abatement program that is remediating homes each year.

“This program needs to be expanded, fully funded, and properly staffed,” Meuninck said. “We call on the Governor to reconvene Michigan's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commissionin order to develop a plan to end lead poisoning in Michigan.”

The commission, which was "sunset" in 2010, was the source of a series of recommendations that should be adopted immediately, according to Tina Reynolds, health policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council and member of the steering committee at the Michigan Alliance for Lead-Safe Housing.

The Detroit Free Press supported the coalition's call for state action in an editorial published June 17. "It’s easy to think of children being the victims, but those children grow up and their chances at successful livelihoods are reduced because of lead exposure," they said. "There are a lot of needs and interests jockeying for legislative attention and state tax dollars. But failing to finish this work ignores the state’s poorest and most vulnerable kids."

EcoLink — June 2014 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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